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Dumb and Dumber

Mar 10, 2014

Maybe the best read I ever got of the two political parties came from my favorite font of wisdom: my Dad. When I asked him what a Democrat was, he told me that they were the stupid party. Being about 9 years old at the time, I wanted to mull over that word “party.” But I forged ahead and asked about Republicans. “Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “they’re just plain dumb.” You have to admit that whatever his answers lacked in specificity, they made up for in comprehensiveness. 

My Dad was Republican, but I didn’t know this until I was in high school. We lived in Arkansas, where Republicans ranked just below communists and atheists among people you wouldn’t leave unattended with your livestock. It occurred to me later that African American voters in my native state supported the Democratic Party because they saw it as the party of civil rights, while a lot of white Democrats hated Republicans because that was the party of Abraham Lincoln. That is one interesting political coalition. 

Dad kept his political cards pretty close to his vest for fear that if his political affiliation got out business partners wouldn’t come to dinner and relatives would come to blows. He was Republican because he was conservative. He thought that people were naturally inclined to do too much of what they want and not enough of what they ought. He didn’t think that human beings were bad by nature but he did think that it wasn’t easy for us to behave responsibly. He thought that the great expansion of federal spending in the second half of the 20th century was irresponsible and unsustainable.  He did not trust the Republicans to be responsible about such things but he did trust the Democrats to be irresponsible. For that reason, he preferred the dumb party to the stupid one. 

Now that Pops is gone, I notice that the President has produced a budget that makes any number of rosy assumptions about the future but does nothing to move the federal government in the direction of fiscal responsibility. He has said on more than one occasion that our vast entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, are not on a sound fiscal footing and need reform. He has stripped even the smallest hint of such reforms out of his budget. The Senate Democrats have announced that they are not even going to work on a budget. House Republicans will produce a budget, but it will contain unrealistic assumptions and proposals that are woefully inadequate to the problems we face. The best thing you can say for the Republicans is that they at least try to address the problem.

The federal budget process has all but ceased to function. The cause is hardly invisible. Part of the federal budget is referred to as “discretionary spending.” That’s the part that Democrats want to increase but Republicans want to rein in. Unfortunately that portion of the budget is shrinking. It is being steadily and inexorably squeezed out by entitlement programs. Those count as non-discretionary spending, because they grow automatically unless Congress and some President finally decide to get real. That won’t happen any time soon because those programs are enormously popular. I think the average American realizes the dilemma but wants Congress to solve it without producing any inconvenience. We, and I mean we, are in the position of someone who wants to lose weight and will do anything it takes, so long as that doesn’t include diet and exercise.

When I was a child I thought my Dad knew everything. When I was in my early teens I thought he didn’t know anything. The older I got, the smarter Dad got. He didn’t know everything but he may have known what was important. We have two great political parties that are able to act with imagination and dispatch in that narrow space between stupid and just plain dumb.

Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.

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